Trellises by Robin White

Robin White's poignant flash fiction about a widow as her children grow up.

We made the effort with mom for a little while, after our father died. That she was the pal, he the disciplinarian, was obvious to us all as we were growing up, but the change in dynamic (coupled with the the change in scenery) shifted our perceptions and we, one-by-one, came to realise how much we needed his influence upon the house. So we visited less and less.

Mom continued as normal for the first summer after he died and the house, as had been its wont for as long as we could remember, was a riot of colour by July, the plants in her garden embracing the seasonal vivacity as well as they ever had. The string of vines above the door were an exercise in ebullience and the neighbours nodded to themselves, placing wreaths about her shoulders in a show of collective endorsement, pleased with how well Mom was persisting with maintaining her life unchanged as it had been for the thirty years previous. Dignity is highly prized in our neighbourhood, especially when it's not at all showy.

By the third summer, our visits were curtailed somewhat by the deluge of life threatening to submerge the both of us. My sister began the laborious process of taking over the matriarchal mantle, with a boy and two girls, while I married, worked and did my best to fabricate a life into which I could thrust myself and my new wife. She, for her part, loved Mom and wanted us to visit more often. They talked about how soon we'd have children, swapped advice on the proper maintenance of perennials and commented on the liberal minefields of the modern woman. I did my best to take part, but found the situation made me uncomfortable. I love this woman talking business with Mom, and yet I take exception to how well she gets on with my mother, when my sister and I find it so difficult to do so. Beside the garage, a string of riotous yellow something-or-others is shaping itself into a work of art and I ask Mom if she needs the garage to be painted. She doesn't and I don't ask again.

By the seventh, my sister's visits have dried up to one a year, that Christmas visit made all the more poignant by its proximity to the date of Dad's passing. She'll never miss it, my sister tells me, but it gets more and more tempting to do so every year. Mom doesn't want them living in the past, she tells me. Dad wouldn't have wanted that. I've always lived vicariously through my own heritage, but I didn't realise that Mom was history already. We spend a week there over the summer, my wife's pregnancy proves buoyant and somehow touching and we enjoy ourselves. I promise, when we leave, that we'll visit more. The path needs weeding, I think. Dad would never have let the unintended dandelions break through the pavement, would have been outside in all weathers, jacketless, shoring up the home's defences and swearing loudly whenever he scuffed a knuckle or stubbed a toe.

When the neighbours start talking, it's the eleventh summer since dad died. The garden has grown a little wild and Mom has taken to spending longer and longer inside. We pitch up deck chairs on the lawn when we visit, drink lemonade and watch Francis playing amongst the flower beds. His life is a source of constant delight to my wife and I and it has, as my sister predicted, twisted our arms (comfortably) away from our promise to visit Mom. The previous Christmas was the first without my sister, as she and her family stayed in Oregon for the season. She invited us to come, but knew Mom would never leave our father. Not at Christmas.

We miss her the sixteenth and seventeenth years and the phone call comes from Mrs. Pence, the relic who took up residence in the Pence family home after her parents died and never saw fit to leave. We fly up there and my wife and our daughter spend two days working on Mom's plants, regimenting the porcelain and tending to the baskets. The sickly growth around the door frame taps into some unknown gut reaction and I spend five minutes gagging febrile acid into the kitchen sink. My sister flies home for the funeral, with neither of the cantankerous teenagers she brings in tow appreciating the necessity to relinquish for a moment all of the things that make their busy lives so important and who are, as such, a pain. I wish they weren't there, as does my wife.

The young couple who buy the house cut down the plants, lay some turf, restore delicacy to the borders, and pay a man to take the vines away. The neighbours nod in approval and sip their tea. Without ceremony, we mix my mother's ashes with those of my father, spread them on our garden, then make dinner for the kids.


  1. A sad and poignant commentary on the slippage that happens all too easily within families, without anyone really intending that it should happen. The story packs a punch and condenses the contents of many years into a handful of paragraphs in which every word counts, thank you,

  2. this is a fine piece of writing. many of us, i imagine, will experience this from one side or the other. maybe it´s also the fact that we think there will always be another year to visit and there always is, for a while. because the story is short and well written this message really hits home.

    Mike McC

  3. I'm surprised this piece hasn't provoked more comment as it discusses head on the 'half-remarkable/half-realized question' of change...How we fear it, resist but rejoice in it, how we try to pretend that it doesn't happen yet so often boast how we've 'moved on'. Hanging onto Dad's ashes, not wanting to leave them, and seeing nature untended as a metaphor for the chaos we all fear as the neglected vine brings on a bilious attack.
    Difficult to squash the episodes of a 17 year narrative, and I really could have done with more of this - 5,000ww, a novella, or how about a 3 Act play? Massively thought-provoking and quite disturbing.
    B r o o k e

  4. The depth and truth of this story is staggering. This happens to so many of us after a certain, either as the children or the remaining parent. Robin White has caught this passage of life perfectly. As Brooke Fieldhouse says, this story deserves more comment and more recognition.
    Jerry McF

  5. More powerful for the brevity. Time and life pass quickly. And top marks for using 'ebullience' which is one of my favourite words! Makes me glad I'm going to visit my parents next weekend.